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07-22_Heine%2C+Lehman%2C+Peng+_+Greenholtz+_2002_+What_s+wrong+with+cross-cultural+comparisons+of+su

07-22_Heine%2C+Lehman%2C+Peng+_+Greenholtz+_2002_+What_s+wrong+with+cross-cultural+comparisons+of+su

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What’s Wrong With Cross-Cultural Comparisons of Subjective Likert Scales?: The Reference-Group Effect Steven J. Heine and Darrin R. Lehman University of British Columbia Kaiping Peng University of California, Berkeley Joe Greenholtz University of British Columbia Social comparison theory maintains that people think about themselves compared with similar others. Those in one culture, then, compare themselves with different others and standards than do those in another culture, thus potentially confounding cross-cultural comparisons. A pilot study and Study 1 demonstrated the problematic nature of this reference-group effect: Whereas cultural experts agreed that East Asians are more collectivistic than North Americans, cross-cultural comparisons of trait and attitude measures failed to reveal such a pattern. Study 2 found that manipulating reference groups enhanced the expected cultural differences, and Study 3 revealed that people from different cultural backgrounds within the same country exhibited larger differences than did people from different countries. Cross- cultural comparisons using subjective Likert scales are compromised because of different reference groups. Possible solutions are discussed. Much research in cultural and cross-cultural psychology as well as in social and personality psychology relies on comparisons of means across groups of self-report measures of attitudes, traits, and values. We question the validity of such comparisons. Although there are a variety of approaches for studying psy- chology and culture (for reviews, see Greenfield, 1997; Nisbett & Cohen, 1996; Shweder et al., 1998, Triandis, McCusker, & Hui, 1990), one of the most widely used strategies has been to contrast cultures on the basis of cultural syndromes , which are patterns of shared attitudes, beliefs, or values that are organized around a theme and largely shared by members of an identifiable group (Triandis, 1996). Examples of such syndromes are tightness and complexity (Triandis, 1989), mastery and conservatism (Schwartz, 1994), and power distance and uncertainty avoidance (Hofstede, 1980). Research guided by this approach has sought to compare or rank order cultures on the basis of their positions on these dimen- sions. The value of such an approach is compelling: If we can identify the variables by which cultures differ, we can conceivably map out the cultures of the world and create a universal psychol- ogy that incorporates each culture’s indigenous psychology (Tri- andis, 1996, p. 407). Individualism–Collectivism Among the growing list of cultural syndromes under investiga- tion, one construct stands out above the rest in terms of stimulating research: individualism–collectivism (IC). IC has been conceptu- alized as a single dimension (e.g., Hofstede, 1980; Kiuchi, 1995), as two dimensions (e.g., Kagitcibasi, 1994; Singelis, 1994), as three dimensions (e.g., Rhee, Uleman, & Lee, 1996), and as four dimensions (e.g., Takata, 1999; Triandis, 1996). This construct is sometimes referred to as independent versus interdependent views of the self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991b; Singelis, 1994), idiocen- trism–allocentrism
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